She walked towards the Kings Highway holding her Grandmother’s hand. Her grandmother was now 94 years old and had been a widow for all of Gabriela’s life. Gabriela idolized her grandmother; she would sit and talk with her for hours, often falling asleep and waking up to the smell of Turkish Coffee and pastries baking. She was always baking, Grandma that is, and if you didn’t eat what she offered she would make a face as if you had just insulted her. She spoke English but had recently developed a penchant to adding in too many Syrian words into her vocabulary.
Grandma Gabriela was born in Italy in 1919 while her mother was en-route to “America.” She was named after a lady who was the landlady in the residence where they stayed while waiting for the Olympic to arrive to take them from Napoli to New York.
While in Napoli Grandma Gabriela’s mother went into labor in the middle of the night. With no money to pay for a Doctor (all the money went towards bed, food and the tickets to America) the landlady, Gabriela served as the mid-wife. She had been a nurse during the Great War and had delivered her share of babies. The baby was born some time in the darkness and was promptly named Gabriela by the grateful mother. Gabriela’s father was in New York waiting for his family to arrive and wouldn’t know about this new arrival until they, with God’s help, pulled into America.
They all made it to New York and found a life there. Thankfully, “Jido”, which is what they called their Grandfather, didn’t think to calculate the months since he had last lain with his wife. He welcomed the family as the disembarked and made it through the Ellis Island medical exams and were signed in by a community representative. The years passed and more children were born and Gabriela grew up as an American citizen.
When Gabriela turned 20 she was told she would be marrying her father’s second cousin ‘s son. She protested and tried to run away but was told that if she did not marry she would be excommunicated from their lives. She relented and as the months passed she learned how to make love without the emotion getting involved.
On December 7th 1941 Gabriela at the age of 22 gave birth to a baby boy – her husband, Morris, who was stationed in Hawaii found out about his becoming a father on December 14th when he awoke from a coma. He was on the USS West Virginia and helped fight the fires that had broken out. When the second attack occurred he was knocked unconscious and avoided being burned when he was found and brought to the Solace – a navy hospital ship.
Fearing his death Gabriela named the baby Morris David Blass, Morris after her husband and David after his father. When she received a telegram stating that Morris was coming home to recover from his wounds she quickly reversed the names to David Morris Blass. She felt a mixture of relief and sadness when she received word he was alive. But she took it as God’s will and decided to do her best as a wife to him.
Morris returned to Brooklyn with a broken leg and right arm; he had cuts on his face and a broken nose. But he was alive. When he opened the door to the apartment on 65th Street in Brooklyn and saw his wife sleeping with his son on her chest. He could not believe that this beauty and love could exist in the same world with so much death and destruction.
Morris had changed and who could even blame him. He had seen human beings burned alive, explosions destroying hulls on ships that once seemed invincible. The Captain of his ship had been killed and the second in command had jumped overboard in panic. Two people who were God-like, were defeated before the clock even hit 830 in the morning. His mates on the ship who had become his family were gone, never to be seen again. Some were younger than him, some were under 18 because they wanted to join the navy and fight for their country. Although Gabriela thought she could comfort him she would find out soon enough that it was close to impossible to comfort one who has seen what he had seen.
He would wake up in the middle of the night screaming, waking up the baby and everyone else in their apartment. He took to drinking, drinking way too much. Relations between himself and Gabriela were brief, if at all. She feared him and he was indifferent or made love in anger. She was scared of him and would fall asleep on the couch many evenings to avoid sleeping next to him. When he finally was recommissioned she was secretly relieved.
Once he healed he was commissioned to Fort Bragg, not knowing how long he would be stationed there, Gabriela opted not to follow him there and stayed home with her parents. Her grandmother would watch the baby while she worked during the day.
It was three years later when she saw him walking up their stairs – back from the war. He had been part of the unit which liberated several Concentration camps and had witnessed more hell than any human being should ever witness. He had killed in the name of war but had cried in the name of humanity. He only came home to tell Gabriela he was leaving and would be gone for a while if not forever. He would be moving to New Orleans.
“You are better off without me. We both know we were forced into this. I am crippled if not in body but in soul; I have seen too much…” He broke down, turned away and said. “Forgive me and tell David to forgive me. Maybe one day I will be able to see beauty and accept love again…”
Years passed – David grew up and on December 7th 1954 he went up to the Torah, read his portion and was deemed a man. It was three months later when Gabriela was waiting for a prescription at a pharmacy when a man walked in and sat beside her. She didn’t look up at first but when she did she looked at the man and smiled.
“I saw you at the Bar-Mitzvah, you know? Why didn’t you introduce yourself to your son?” She asked him.
“After abandoning him and you for 13 years I didn’t think I deserved to steal your day and to stand there with your father. You both earned that right. I cannot believe how good looking he is, he looks just like you. And, you, you look great.”
“No I don’t!” She laughed. “I am feeling kind of sick, that’s why I am here. I look terrible.” He smiled.
“Maybe I have been alone for too long but to me you look more beautiful than I can remember.” She smiled.
“Nothing like a chance encounter in a pharmacy to bring up ones spirits.” She laughed, he laughed.
“Want to get some coffee some time?”
“Well, considering we are still married…” She said.
“A chance encounter…life is shaped and formed by a series of chance encounters. I am sorry about leaving…I needed to go.” His eyes began to well up.
“Sometimes a chance encounter happens because it was meant to be. Come have dinner with us and you can meet your son. Will you be staying here?”
“Yes, I am back.”
To be Continued